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The Power of Story

power of storyHave you ever wondering where stories come from and why they are so powerful?

The origin of story is found in something we lovingly refer to as oral tradition. From the dawn of time, human beings gathered together to share in story – story of life’s origin, story of purpose, story of definition and story of hope. Every human culture that has ever existed has elevated story to be the capstone of their existence. We are immersed in story.

Story is in the sinew that binds the human narrative together.

One of my favourite things to do as a parent is to tell stories to my children. Sometimes these stories are about my own childhood memories; sometimes the stories I tell are focused on producing some sort of desired response; and at other times stories are simply about celebrating something.

Stories are powerful because they matter to us. Here are three ways the power of story is revealed.

Story inspires. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’ve gotta great story to tell?” They proceed to dive into a great tale of some triumph or failure, evoking emotion, engagement and wonder as a result. Great stories are ones that inspire us in some way. Inspiration is a fickle thing. At times it demands an active response, and at others it invokes a pensive state. In all its forms, great story-telling catapults the listener into an emotively saturated climate called inspiration.

Story celebrates. The best stories told through image or words are those that seek to elevate a cause, an individual or a dilemma that is worth celebrating. While Hollywood has done society a great disservice is many regards, what Hollywood does do well is celebrate great stories. Historical turning points, social awareness issues and personal triumphs have been captivated in print or on-screen in ways that have allowed millions of people to be influenced in some way. Awards shows like the Grammys & Emmys provide a platform through which the telling of story is honoured, and the stories themselves may gain the recognition and joy they deserve.

Story breathes. Stories are alive. Don’t believe me? Try telling someone a story and see what happens. Stories evoke question, wonder & hope at the drop of a hat. What we say, how we say it, and how we choose to live in response to what we’ve experienced are signs of life…life that is wrought into existence by the power of story.

One of my goals as a leader is to learn to harness the power of story in my own life – knowing that what I say and what I do are stitching together a narrative that influences the world around me. More importantly, knowing that my life as story exists within the context of a greater unfolding story known as human existence, which has been authored by a creator God in a loving and determined fashion.

It’s this story that all of human kind finds itself immersed in. Which leaves me to ponder how we are engaging the power of story in all its forms to inspire, celebrate & breathe in present reality and the not so distant future? What do you think?

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Two keys to working with people

I recently returned from a cross-cultural experience with teens. Trips like these always provide students (and leaders) with valuable memories, opportunities for conversations, growth and potentially life-changing experiences.

This is one of many different trips that I’ve been a part of in the youth ministry world over the years. Each time I’ve travelled to a different country, experienced a different culture, or have simply taken the time to be present with a group of people I’ve noticed that there are two primary values (keys) that drive connection: a place to belong and someone who believes in you.

These values aren’t limited to culture, context, age or gender. They simply exist because they speak to the core needs of humankind. So if these values happen to be the root motivators for connection, what does that mean for us as leaders who work with people? I’m not an expert in this material at all, but I would suggest there are some key shifts that may need to take place in the systems and communities we leaders create.

 

A place of belonging. There are numerous articles written by people who are much smarter than I am on this particular subject matter. Here is one of my favourites written by a friend of mine, Mr. Mark Oestricher.

The question that belonging answers is “where do I fit?” If the communities, activities and environments we help create answer this question for the people we hope to serve, then we are on to something. But, what if the reverse is actually true? What if the sub-culture we’ve created is based on something other than acceptance and love and polarises people rather than embraces them?

Can you believe different and still find connection with those around you? If we foster a place to belong we value and embody love ahead of anything else.


Someone who believes in you. Every single person who is in existence, has existed or will exist in the future needs someone who believes in them in their life. Someone who comes along and speaks hope and life into you at a dark place in life. Someone who has your best interest in mind in the way the speak to you and interact with you. Someone who isn’t willing to see the dark side of our human nature overshadow the hopefulness of the image of God that exists in every human being.

Without someone who believes in us, we may never find the strength to persevere through tough times or the hope to carry on when things don’t seem to make any sense. What if having someone that believes in us is a literal matter of life or death? No one can walk through life alone, nor should they believe the lie that says they have to. Do our ministry efforts foster a culture of belief and hopefulness through the exchange of respect, honour, love and admiration?

 

Do you agree with these two ideas? What would you add or subtract from this conversation?

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When your leadership feels threatened

threat

Every leader will face a season where his or her influence seems to be fading. Sometimes this can be due to age, sometimes to irrelevance or sometimes due to a copious amount of mistakes that are made.

In other moments and seasons, a diminishing influence in leadership may occur when a younger and perhaps even more gifted leader comes into the picture.

The biblical narrative is chalked full of a number of different stories of leadership transitions, both positive and negative. For the purpose of this short article I simply want to focus on two such stories highlighted by Dave Brotherton in his live interview with Mark Buchanan conducted online through Canadian Youth Worker here.

 

Saul meets David

Saul was the first king of the nation of Israel. The story of Saul and David begins with David defeating an enemy, Goliath, who was terrorising the Israelites. David, a teenager at the time, fought Goliath in battle. No one from Saul’s court or mighty army was willing to lead out in battle against this supposed giant.

In this moment, David not only seized a level of authority and fame, but also elevated his leadership voice substantially.

As this story progresses, Saul becomes increasingly threatened by the ability, talent and popularity of David. At one point, Saul tries to end David’s life by hurtling a spear at his head…side note, if someone physically threatens you as a leader, I would say this classifies as a failed leadership transition…just saying.

Saul maintained the title of authority, but David’s leadership ability and anointing from God elevated him to a place that surpassed Saul.

Every leader will face their own David and/or Saul moment. As a youth pastor, there are leaders and teens in my ministry who are going to do even greater things that what I’ve been able to accomplish in my leadership thus far (and in the future). I have a decision to make when the stories of these brazen, young & incredibly gifted leaders collide with my own leadership story. Will I hurl a spear at their heads hoping to wound or kill their ability, or will I have the confidence to step outside of myself, lend whatever leadership reputation I may have built to these younger leaders for the sake of the Kingdom?

 

Eli mentors Samuel

Eli was the high priest of Israel at the time when a young boy named Samuel came to live with him. One evening, the Lord began to speak to Samuel (which was a privilege typically reserved for the priesthood in Israel…of which Samuel was not yet a part of). Samuel, not knowing what was happening runs to Eli several times seeking to respond to what he thinks is Eli calling out to him.

 

At some point, Eli clues in that Samuel is hearing the voice of God, and instead of letting his jealousy overwhelm him…he coaches Samuel to embrace the Lord’s invitation. Eli knew he was being passed over, and he could have held on to what “he built” for the sake of his family and his reputation, but instead he allowed wisdom to shape his decision to celebrate Samuel instead of destroy him.

 

So when threats occur…

When your leadership feels threatened will you throw a tantrum like Saul, or embrace wisdom like Eli and support, coach, empower and cheer on those who will do more amazing things that we can possibly imagine?

Are there people in your current sphere of influence as a leader that you need to begin to view differently in light of these two stories? What is God saying to you, and what are you doing about it?

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What’s in a Name?

I remember the first moment when I found out I was going to be a dad. Mixed emotions of excitement, nervousness and joy flooded into my soul. The weight of responsibility of caring for and discipling a young child into adulthood became the focus of my thought power and energy leading up to the moment of birth (and beyond!). Of all the responsibilities associated with being a parent, none seemed as important as providing a great start for this new child by choosing the name they would live into.

My wife Bonny and I spent countless hours creating names for our children. We created a spreadsheet listing all the leading name candidates, researching their meaning and dreaming about what we hoped our children would live into in terms of values, character and aspirations for their future.

The day came where we met each of our three children and called them by name. In that moment everything seemed settled, new, hope-filled and amazing.

Fast forward a couple of years and these young little babies who are now young children are beginning to live into and own the name that they have been given. They respond to it when it’s called (for the most part…), they introduce themselves by it and they know how to write it. My kids are beginning to share who they are with others, starting with their name.

I often marvel at the power that names have in each of our lives. Working with teens I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative effects of names or labels that have been placed on these kids by those who they trusted and cared about. How we speak to each other and what references or names we use matter. The grade 7 boy who is home-schooled is more than just a home-schooler. The grade 10 girl who has dated half the youth group is more than just the floozy. The student that lives in the rough part of town is more than an underprivileged kid.

The names we share with one another and we give to others matter. What names are you using to refer to the teens and families under your sphere of influence and care? Are they names that breathe life into their souls, or names that reinforce all the lies they may be tempted to believe about who they are? What’s in a name, and does a name really matter?

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Kingdom Diversity

This post also appears on Canadian Youth Worker here.

If you study the life of Jesus you will not only discover a God-man full of integrity and character. You may also discover that He likes to do things differently…a lot.

When I first started out in ministry as a volunteer and then young ministry leader, I was convinced that the way I was doing things was the best possible way to minister to teens and families. Call it arrogance, call it being naive, or simply call it being blind. Many years later as a seasoned ministry leader I’m learning to appreciate the richness that diversity has to offer.

Diversity is an interesting word. To some it means embracing a laissez-faire attitude towards life and leadership, while to others it means uncovering and celebrating the different personalities, character and dreams that people possess. For me, diversity is a value; one that liberates a leader from a narrow frame of modus operandi.

Back to Jesus.

If you study the miracles that Jesus performed during His time on earth, you will discover that each one is uniquely different and yet completely amazing. He spits into mud and rubs it onto the eyes of a blind man restoring his sight, He changes water into wine through a simple exercise of refilling empty wine barrels, He speaks to a dead man inviting him to step back into life, and he prays over a small lunch in order to feed a gathered crowd of over 5000 people. And these are just a few of the miracles Jesus performed!

If you take a deeper look into the people that Jesus interacted with, you will again discover this theme and value of diversity. Jesus took the time to notice and to befriend anyone who was willing to be known by Him.

If Jesus embraced and lived this value of diversity, shouldn’t our families, churches and ministry communities do the same? Is there room for diversity in your current ministry context, or are you asking everyone to be like everybody else?

Here are a few questions that I’m asking in my life and in my ministry to help me refine the value of diversity:

1. Do I create space where people with different stories, personalities, abilities and learning styles can connect?
2. Do I take the time to celebrate someones uniqueness as well as to look for something that we might have in common?
3. Do I encourage other ministry leaders who do ministry different than I do to keep leading into their uniqueness, or do I suggest that they should copy what I do?
4. Do I possess a balance between creativity and imitation in my pursuit of embracing diversity as a value?

So what about you…how have you seen the value of diversity impact the lives of people? Are there additional questions you’d add to this list to help refine the pursuit of diversity as a value?

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Four Tensions a Leader Must Face

Being a leader isn’t an easy task. The greatest leaders in history are those who have learned to work around, embrace and resolve tension. While many people enjoy the responsibility of making decisions, choosing a direction or having people work for you, there is significant weight associated with being a leader because tension is inevitable.

A leader is someone who is open to criticism that is fueled by the mismanagement of the different tensions they endure.

Here are four tensions that every leader faces:

1. Physical Tension – respect and honor for other leaders
There is a natural default human tendency to define our self-worth based on who we are in comparison to others. Leadership is no different. We might look at a leader from another environment and evaluate ourselves to be better than or worse than what we see based on a set of identified or inferred criteria.

Every leader will be faced with the tension to consider him or her self to be of better quality than another leader. Learning to value other leaders for who they are, while leaving room to disagree with process, philosophy or methodology will help you to stay focused on developing into the leader God has created you to be.

2. Emotional Tension – hope vs. pessimism or cynicism
Leaders are often faced with the tension of creating a sense of hope or a sense of impending doom. Facilitating hope creates and sustains vision. Consistent pessimism or cynicism leads only to peril.

Leading from a hope-filled perspective doesn’t make a leader naïve, but instead helps the leader to process, refine and redirect vision as necessary. Leaders need to be honest about their current reality, admitting when things are darker than they had hoped, and brighter then they could have imagined. Hope may not disappoint, but pessimism and cynicism always do.

3. Intellectual Tension – being teachable vs. being arrogance
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This is often the difference between creating momentum or chaos. Leaders who are willing to learn from everyone and every situation will begin to develop intrinsic momentum within their organizations by valuing creativity and innovation over proper procedure and/or productivity.

4. Spiritual Tension – love or legalism
There is a leadership tension between valuing tradition over outcome. A loving leader celebrates diversity while a legalistic leader demands conformity. The values of an organization are its social conscience. Violation of values leads to a culture that is more cumbersome than hopeful, depleting the leader’s ability to inspire, manage, create or stimulate growth. Leadership is learning to balance the tension between a legalistic carnal response and loving spiritual intuitiveness.

Tension is a necessary experience for growth and development as a leader. While this is not an exhaustive list of leadership tensions, it points out the reality that tension exists and it cannot be avoided. What do you agree or disagree with? What other leadership tensions do leaders face? What tension are you facing most prominently right now?

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The Spiritual SAT

1517798383_9bd851eee6Sweaty palms. Loss of breath. Fear and panic.

These are some of the many symptoms different people experience when they are confronted with life’s most unforgiving tutelage… the test.

I can remember the first time I wrote a mid-term exam in university. I had studied more intensely than I ever had before, and had even decided to sleep on top of some of the study material I was supposed to memorize hoping that osmosis would allow for more absorption and retention of information in my nearly exhausted body.

Exam day came. I entered the room, found a place to sit and began feverishly attacking the test with great vigor. Two hours later I found myself back in my dorm room, mentally and physically exhausted, hoping that I had done enough to pass the test and continue on with my course studies.

Several days later, I received confirmation that I not only passed the test, but did better than I was hoping to do because of something called the bell curve that my professor had decided to implement for this particular exam.

This was probably one of the most significant times where I took notice of a metric, something that is used to measure the success of failure of an individual. This bell curve pushed me into an entirely different category than what I had labeled myself to be, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it.

The Spiritual SAT

I think one of the most challenging facets of ministry is measuring success. We’ve learned through studies like the Willow Creek Reveal, Sticky Faith and Hemorrhaging Faith that what we’ve typically used to measure the spiritual success in others isn’t working. Our metric seem wrong. These studies have shown us that we cannot assume a person’s attendance at a religious activity will develop long-term transformation in their life. But we still have this desire to measure how successful we might be, and so we continue to utilize the broken metric. The metric; the Spiritual SAT. The test that doesn’t really tell us anything that matters, but something we continue to point to cause we don’t know what else to do.

Maybe I’m the only youth pastor in the world that will ever say this, but I’m tired of the metric.

This test that we’ve created doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know, and it places a label and structure on the lives of teenagers that they don’t need and aren’t asking for. I’m tired of asking teens to find our fit instead of allowing them to find how they fit into the life of the community they so desperately need to connect to. I don’t want to view teenagers through the lens of attendance, or spiritual merits achieved. I want to see them for who they’ve been created to be. Intentionally flawed masterpieces.

It’s time to find a new metric; a new way of defining what success looks like. Success should be based on character development and life transformation instead of attendance and compliance. Death to the Spiritual SAT.! Life to a new creation!

Define your success. What does that look like?

Photo credit: Davidalender Hu via Flickr (Creative Commons)